The 2012 edition of U.S. News & World Reports Best Colleges was published online yesterday September 13th. U. S. News & World Report’s published rankings of colleges and universities is the nation’s most popular and most controversial listing of its kind. Annually, the magazine collects and analyzes statistical data on colleges and universities throughout the country and ranks institutions based on their performance on various indicators/dimensions of academic quality. Many academics, economists, consumers etc have challenged the credibility of the lists, questioning both the data collected and the process by which it is analyzed. Additionally, every school varies in mission, administration, faculty, culture, financial status , etc, therefore many have argued whether are not there are universal standards of academic quality and institutional effectiveness.
In any case, many high school teachers, counselors, students and their families use the U. S. News & World Report rankings as a resource in identifying options for college and beyond. Many do so with a superficial understanding of the rankings and how to use them. Through this post I will share some general information about the methodology of the U.S. News & World Report College Rankings and some insight as to how to use them properly in your college search.
What are they measuring? How are college rankings determined?
U. S. News & World Report measures colleges and universities in 16 areas of institutional quality and academic excellence in the following categories:
- faculty resources ( class size)
- student selectivity ( SAT/ACT scores of incoming Freshmen classes),
- institutional wealth ( available financial resources)
- retention and graduation rates
- peer assessment
Institutions are assessed to determine the quality of their students, faculty and other available resources as well as the impacts of the education students received on their lives after graduation. Schools are analyzed for each measurement factor (and corresponding subfactor) and the categorical scores are weighted and combined to produce an overall score for each college/university. You can find an indepth overview of the methodology with ranking category criteria, percentage weights and how the overall scores are calculated by clicking here.
What data is used to determine the rankings? Where does it come from?
It is important for consumers to understand the nature of the information used to determine these rankings. Institutions self report data about themselves and their students. These data range from test scores, diversity, admissions and enrollment information, class size , salary, development, financial records, etc. U. S. News and World reports sends an extensive questionnaire to colleges in the late winter. Some schools elect not to participate and do not return the survey. In those cases, what information is not disclosed is assessed via national datasets, such as the National Center for Education Statistics, or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Institutional data reported on college and university websites is also used as well.
How does one utilize this list?
You must be strategic in your use of U. S. News & World Report College Rankings. It is not an almanac; please don’t use it as the sole resource in choosing which schools to apply to. Remember all statistical/analytical data is relative. We must be careful not to take the rankings and the data used to determine an institution’s position on this list as a complete picture of the quality of academic experience at that institution. The US News and World report is a great resource for assessing the various types of institutions available throughout the country. The list should be used to help you identify what type of institution would be best for a student in comparison to others. The institutions that are typically at the top of the list are those institutions with the most resources, popularity and prestige. They are also the most selective institutions but they are not at all the only means by which one can attain a quality education in the United States.
How could this list fit into my personal search for the right college?
I urge students to begin their college search with their own research. Develop a list of schools that you are attracted to or familiar with and schools that you’ve considered and/ or dreamed of going to. This list should contain no less than 7 schools and no more than 15 schools. I then suggest that students begin to learn about each institution individually. Visit their websites, read reviews on CollegeBoard and other resources, talk to alum or current students that you may know personally, etc. At this stage of the college search a student should have an idea of what type of institution he/she would like to attend. I’ve found that in learning more and more about different colleges and universities the characteristics of one’s ideal school will begin to emerge. At that point, the U. S. News and World Report College Rankings are particularly useful. Students can use the lists as a tool to
- identify the schools have the qualities their are looking for
- gauge and how successful/effective a school is in meeting a student’s individual/personal standards for what he/she seeks to gain from his/her college experience.
I believe very strongly that college choice is a very personal process. What’s good for one person can be toxic for another. As students our needs vary just as much as our interest so the best school for me may be the worst school for someone else. It’s nice to say I attend a school ranked #4 in the nation but as a student who’s attended many types of institutions I can’t say that the education that I’ve received at one was any better or worst than the other. Don’t get hung up on the ranking, big names, prestigious hoopla , etc. At the end of the day it’s a matter of what place will best prepare me to meet my goals at this stage in my life. That is not always the place with the most money, the prettiest campus or the highest paid faculty. Don’t believe the hype. Be honest with yourself. Learn your needs, set your goals and find the place that will help you get from where you are to where you need to be in the safest, most appropriate and most efficient way. Happy Hunting